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Much on the line for Altoona, State College

After a couple of rough outings in a row, the Altoona Mountain Lions will hit the comeback trail Friday night, visiting State College for a Mid-Penn Conference game that has significant District 4-6 Class 6A playoff ramifications.

Altoona (4-5 overall, 1-5 in the conference) suffered a heartbreaking 52-48 loss to Central Dauphin at Mansion Park two weeks ago. Last week, the Lions were beaten soundly, 56-20 at Carlisle.

Altoona coach Vince Nedimyer Jr. knows that there is work to be done for his team entering Friday’s 7 p.m. kickoff at State College’s Memorial Field.

“We’ve got to put last week behind us and try to get back on track,” Nedimyer said. “We didn’t tackle well last week, and we turned the ball over three times. Those two things combined are going to make it difficult to get a win.

“State College is well-coached, and they’ll be physical. They will be up for us, and we will be up for them. It’s a big game, a rivalry game. Our kids are excited. We will be ready to go.”

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that either a first-round playoff bye, or home field advantage for a first-round playoff game, could be at stake.

State College also enters Friday’s game with a 4-5 overall record, and the Little Lions are 2-4 in conference play. Williamsport of District 4, which is in the playoff bracket with Altoona and State College, has a 5-4 record entering its home game with Hazleton Friday night.

If Williamsport beats Hazleton, then Altoona and State College will meet in the first round of the playoffs next week, with the winner of Friday’s Altoona-State College matchup getting home field for the playoff game.

If Williamsport loses to Hazleton, the winner of Friday’s Altoona-State College game will get a first-round playoff bye and meet Williamsport in the playoffs the following week.

The scenario creates plenty of incentive for both Altoona and State College entering this week’s matchup.

“I don’t know that we need any extra incentive,” said State College coach Matt Lintal, whose team battled gamely in a 15-13 conference road loss to 8-1 Harrisburg on Saturday. “Every game is meaningful, and we’re going to try to stick with that process and try to put ourselves in the best position to win each game.”

Altoona came from behind to defeat State College, 22-21 in the District 6 Class 6A championship game last season at Mansion Park. Lintal expects a tough battle Friday night.

“Coach Nedimyer is doing a great job, their kids play hard, they play physical football,” Lintal said. “We’ve got to be ready to play.”

State College certainly was last week against a strong Harrisburg team, scoring a touchdown with six seconds left in regulation but coming up just short when a two-point conversion pass that would have forced overtime failed to connect.

“Our kids played extremely hard,” Lintal said. “We had a great game plan going in — a really team-oriented game plan that put us in a situation to tie the game, but unfortunately, we didn’t make the two-point conversion.”

State College’s quarterbacking duties are currently being split between junior Jack Morris and sophomore Owen Yerka, who threw for 91 yards and a touchdown against Harrisburg. Morris rushed for State College’s second touchdown in that game.

“We’re still developing our offense,” Lintal said. “Those two quarterbacks have different skill sets, but they can both run our offense very efficiently.”

Junior Finn Furmanek, who was State’s quarterback earlier in the year, passed for 831 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 223 yards and six touchdowns in five games before suffering an undisclosed injury.

Furmanek’s return is in question at this point.

Senior back Brady Bendik has rushed for 432 yards on 102 carries and two touchdowns for State College, while senior wideouts Jashaun Green and T.J. Yoder both have 25 receptions, with four Green catches going for touchdowns and Yoder catching two TD passes.

Altoona star senior fullback-linebacker Ethan Stroup sat out for the second straight game last week because of groin tenderness. Stroup has rushed for 763 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Junior Alex Yost stepped up big last week in Stroup’s absence, rushing for 112 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns, and catching three passes for 35 yards and another score.

“We’re getting out of him what we thought we would,” Nedimyer said of Yost. “He’s a good, tough kid who has done a great job all year on defense at outside linebacker and now on offense, he’s been thrown into that role of being that lead back, and he’s done a nice job there in Ethan’s absence.”

Senior Andre Dokes caught five passes last week for Altoona, and has 16 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown this season. He’s also rushed for two touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Aiden Steinbugl has been a dual threat for the Mountain Lions, completing 50 passes for 548 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 462 yards and five scores.

Both coaches expect a competitive game Friday night.

“They have a nice combination of running and throwing on offense, and they do a nice job defensively as well,” Nedimyer said of the State College team.

“They do all the fundamental things right. We’re definitely going to have to play well to get a win.”

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